Bacteria’s Role with Systemic Health

The mouth is a pathway to the rest of the body.  Remember that sentence as you read over the ways bacteria from your mouth can travel through your bloodstream and affect every other system connected to it.  These are the conditions that have been linked to periodontitis, a disease found in over half of Americans over age 30.

Heart Disease

Many studies conclude that periodontal disease is strongly associated with heart disease.  Scientists think that bacteria from infected tissue travels through the extensive network of blood vessels into the heart and surrounding tissue.   Although the recommendations have decreased quite a bit in recent years, some patients with damaged hearts still need to pre-medicate with an antibiotic prior to dental visits to prevent infection.


Infections in the mouth can cause blood sugar to increase.  People with uncontrolled diabetes have a weakened immune system.  They usually don’t heal as well and may be more prone to get infections in the mouth.  We often see our diabetic patients on a more frequent cleaning schedule to control pocketing and bacterial colonies that live below the gum line.


There’s a fairly aggressive bacterium known for producing an enzyme that can cause collagen-induces arthritis. Gingivitis is its name and it can be found in areas of chronic inflammation.  Bone damage and cartilage destruction tend to be far worse for people with rheumatoid arthritis.  In turn, patients that have periodontal disease are at a higher risk for inflammation of the joints throughout the body.


Over the past two decades, low bone density has been a hot topic of study.  Researchers are finding a link between osteoporosis in the extremities and bone loss in the jaw. When the teeth have weak bone, they become compromised and infected easily. Since bone regenerates faster in the jaw than any other area of the body, this is a great area to monitor for changes.

Respiratory Disease

Germs in the mouth can be aspirated into the lungs and cause diseases such as pneumonia.  This is especially common in people with periodontal disease.


Researchers found that men with gum disease were 49% more likely to develop kidney cancer, 54% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer and 30% more likely to develop blood cancers. (

The commonality with all of the above conditions is inflammation. When a bacterium is given the opportunity, they hide, colonize and cause complications.   Believe it or not, the human mouth usually contains more bacteria than the average toilet.  By taking better care of your mouth and teeth, you are also making positive changes that could decrease your risk for other systemic conditions.  A simple periodontal screening by your dentist or hygienist could potentially add years to your life!